VOHU MANAH
The Good Mind

Vohu Manah is one of the Amesha Spentas, the seven great emanations of Ahura Mazda, the one Wise Lord. Though there is no hierarchy among the seven Emanations, Vohu Manah is often ranked first by Zoroastrian thinkers, because it is so important in the Zarathushtrian revelation.It means "Good Mind," but some translators also translate it as "good thought" or "good thinking." These translations have different connotations and lead to different views of what the Prophet meant by the term.

It is first of all the faculty of reason in human beings, which connects with the Reason of God. In Zoroastrianism, God is a God of reason, not of arbitrary whim. The virtue of good thinking, or reason, is a Divine gift to human beings, and every time we use our reason and our intellectual abilities, we are using our Vohu Manah. Zarathushtra, in presenting his revelation, invites his hearers to think about what he is saying and reason it out for themselves before they accept it. This is not like other religious revelations which are filled with strange or irrational ideas which must be taken on faith.

Zoroastrianism is almost unique among ancient faiths for its reliance on reason and the mind, rather than faith, non-rational experience, and the "heart." It puts tremendous emphasis on reason, (called Vohu Manah, or Good Mind in the Gatha hymns of the Prophet) rather than the arbitrary and mysterious will of an all- powerful God. Vohu Manah is one of the ways that God communicates with us - through the use of our reason. Whenever we use our Vohu Manah, we are actually entering into communion with God. Through Vohu Manah come our best ideas, our inspirations, our finer thoughts.

Zarathushtra valued Vohu Manah so highly that in the first canto of his Gathas, Yasna 28 (song 1) he mentions it in every one of the 11 verses. This is the canto of great invocations that begins the Gathas. In these verses one can see the many meanings of Vohu Manah that are part of Zarathushtra's religious/philosophical thinking.

There is, first, the personal aspect of Vohu Manah, that leads to inspiration and, indeed, mystical communion. Zarathushtra says that he approaches God through Good Mind (vohu manah, verse 2). He attunes his soul to Good Mind, in verse 4, and he prays for the wisdom of Good Mind so that he may serve the living world (verse 1).

Then there is the theological Vohu Manah. Zarathushtra addresses Vohu Manah as an entity, a personification which later led to the characterization of Vohu Manah and the others as "archangels." It is God's Mind as well as ours. God is the revealer of Good Mind (yasna 31, song 4, verse 17). Though some scholars (like Ali Jafarey) deny that any actual personification goes on in the Gathas, many Zoroastrians agree that Vohu Manah is a hypostasis,a term which means a spiritual entity which is an embodiment of certain principles: here, Good Mind.

There is also a political Vohu Manah. In yasna 31, (song 4) verse 10,Zarathushtra describes how the world chooses a protector against oppression - this protector must be a lord of truth and a seeker of Good Mind. The ideal ruler is not just one who is strong and powerful, but who abides by Truth and the virtues of Good Mind, which include compassion, tolerance, and understanding. This concept also occurs in the yatha ahu prayer. According to one translator, Taraporewala, the gifts of Good Mind are for those working for the Lord of Life. According to Jafarey, the Good Mind in the prayer belongs to those who choose the proper leaders.

Some scholars (Stanley Insler, of Yale U. among them) translate Vohu Manah as "Good Thinking." This gives a kind of humanistic flavor to his translation of the Gathas, and avoids any idea of Vohu Manah as a spiritual entity - it is just good thinking, a human virtue. To translate Vohu Manah as "Good Mind" adds the idea of it as a spiritual entity, in fact even a mystical Divine Mind in which we participate. I prefer this translation. Throughout the Gathas Vohu Manah is cited as an "instrument" (that is, in the instrumental case) so that one constantly sees prayers, actions, invocations, "through Good Mind." It is the foundation of right thought, word, and action, as it is through Vohu Manah that we know what is right.

In later Zoroastrian traditions, the seven Amesha Spentas, including Vohu Manah, were personified and became living spiritual entities sometimes compared to "archangels." Each one of these was considered the guardian of one sector of the created world. Vohu Manah, in this tradition, is the guardian of the Animal world, and is often associated with cattle and the life-giving cows which were so important to Zarathushtra's people. The reasons for the association of Good Mind with Animals are unclear, but it is in keeping with Zoroastrian reverence for the living world that Good Mind includes caring for animals, without cruelty or exploitation. Zarathushtra's ideal person, in the Gathas, is often called a "herdsman," which is analogous to the Biblical "shepherd." To participate in the Good Mind of Ahura Mazda means to preserve and renew the whole world, which is often symbolized by the Prophet as a "joy-bringing cow." Thus through Good Mind we know the Good, for animals, human beings, and the wider world, and thus reach the God who is the source of all that is good.

vohu gaidi manangha (Come to us, O Lord, through Good Mind)

HMG Shapero/Vohu Manah


Copyright 1995, 1996 Hannah M.G. Shapero Republished by permission of the author.